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Monday, August 18, 2014

Independent retailers and e-commerce

Brick and mortar businesses vs. ecommerce
In store retailers that require in person evaluation have an edge
By Sally Stacey

The last few years have represented a tough time for many traditional independent retailers. It must have felt like being attacked from all sides and probably still does but should they give up the ghost or fight on? There could be opportunities on the horizon because whilst the world is changing rapidly, not all of those changes are in the same direction.

The challenges

The truth is that many retailers simply got left behind and buckled under the force of the perfect storm. As big chains began to emerge and throw around their weight, consumers were becoming ever more brand aware. People were defaulting to the names they knew and as big malls began to replace the high street as the favourite places to shop, independent retailers were priced out because the rents were beyond their means. The growth of online shopping may well have been the last straw in reducing footfall and destroying margins but does it have to be the killer punch?

Winners and losers

Many traditional retailers are now embracing e-commerce with varying degrees of success and it just might be that the key to future success is in the very values that have seen some independents continue to prosper at their bricks and mortar sites. The winners have played on what they can offer rather than what they can't and there are distinct signs that showcasing the products you won't find in the malls and offering a veritable delight of a shopping experience can yield impressive results. If you can bottle those attributes and put them online then perhaps you are onto a winner.

Embracing e-commerce

Yes consumers like convenience and low prices but a significant number also value uniqueness and personal service. We all like to be pampered and to receive the right advice and a great ecommerce site can deliver those things and more. Successful independents have turned their stores into aspirational destinations, a hive of information and almost a private club by combining the latest products with traditional values and now they can use the latest technology to take things up another notch.

Moving up the gears

The best sites online do so much more than confront their customers with a list of products and prices. They impart advice and information, they pay attention to the details, they allay fears and they sell aspirations. They make people curious, they keep things fresh, they give people reasons to return. All this can be achieved with great content and the use of social media. The secret of ecommerce is not to use it as a means to reduce costs and to do less work. The answer is to do more work and just possibly to spend more too.

An e-commerce site is not static signage that can be left and ignored. It is a vibrant animal in an ever changing world that must move forward every day. It is a world of its own that can do next to nothing for your business or do almost everything and the results are proportionate to the effort expended. Backed by an increasing appreciation for the quirky and original amongst consumers who are tired of homogenised malls, it could be time for boutique independents to rise again but only if they fully embrace life online. The malls may eventually lose their appeal but people aren't going to ditch their computers, tablets and mobiles any time soon.

About the author: Sally Stacey is a keen writer and independent retailer who is excited by the opportunites presented by ecommerce.